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Ghana Airways ? Live Or Die

Sun, 29 Feb 2004 Source: Panford, Kwamina Mbra

For the past 3 years, Ghana Airways has become one of the most debated upon public corporations in Ghana. It has left such a bad taste in so many passengers? mouths that many had wondered at its existence. At the moment the Airline owes $160 million which is fiscally discomforting for the Ghanaian economy. Is Ghana Airways ever going to change? We all know about Ghana Airways? shabby performance; constant postponements, delays, lost luggage, untimely baggage delivery and overbooking at peak times. The complaints are many and frustrating to Ghanaians and passengers. Should the Government declare the Airline bankrupt, sell it or help steer it in the right direction?

I have been puzzled at how the Airlines have survived so far. I flew Ghana Airways just before Christmas 2004. The round trip was smooth. It was so convenient. I sat in the plane at 2p.m at New York JFK Airport, caught some good sleep, woke up and I was at home. On my way back to America, I asked myself; ?How could we keep our own Ghana Airways going?? Panam deserted Ghana years ago, as soon as the economy weakened; depriving a lot of us the direct flight home. I voiced my concerns to a member of Ghana Airways flight crew. He said we have to look forward to a stronger more reliable Ghana Airways soon. A new director has taken over Ghana Airways and is determined to turn the Airline around.

Like any state corporation in the developing countries, Ghana Airways has been subjected to poor management, limited capital support, poor employee attitude, job performance and overbearing political patronage. On Monday the 12th of Jan, I had the privilege of talking with Mr. Philip Owusu, who has been Ghana Airways Chief Executive Officer for the past 8 months. He said he was fully aware of the problems of Ghana Airways.The untimely departure and arrival problems have been due to the physical conditions of the planes the Airline leased or owned. As irritating as the delays have been, Ghana Airways has been very safety conscious. The piloting crew will not fly anytime a mechanical defect is detected. Mr. Owusu said the Airline has leased 4 relatively better Aircrafts at very reasonable cost which is boosting the current arrival and departure schedules. Because of the limited number of planes, any breakdown on one plane has a domino effect on the rest of the schedule from Ghana, Europe and America.

I pointed out to Mr. Owusu that flight information has been woefully inadequate. and frustrated passengers even more. This inconveniences the passengers substantially. There are too many postponements for one flight. For example a plane scheduled to depart New York JFK Airport at 1p.m(Saturday) is postponed to 4p.m, then 8p.m, then 11p.m, till finally the following Sunday 8p.m!!! Passengers are caught between going home or staying at the airport. The most affected are the passengers from outside New York City. The worst part is to call for flight information at for example; Saturday 11p.m. The voice mail will say; Ghana Airways is scheduled to arrive at 8a.m, the same Saturday!!!. The initial voice mail is normally okay. However, there is no attempt to do an accurate flight information update. Mr.Owusu promised to work on improving these areas. Also I do no understand why Ghana Airways accepts cash only for excess baggage. To see all that cash being put in a brown paper bag is very unprofessional apart from the fact that this makes it susceptible to stealing or robbery. The Airline has to accept credit or debit cards. Credit and debit cards cost some money. However, their advantages should out-weigh their costs. In addition they are so convenient for the passengers.

Well, Ghana Airways has at the moment some disconcerting problems. I strongly believe as the Chief Executive Officer said, it can be resuscitated .As Mr. Owusu pointed out, the $160 debt in not insurmountable because Ghana Airways has over $100 million in annual revenue. The debt is therefore not a burden on the Government. All that the Government has to do is to help renegotiate the payment schedule- to spread it out and make it more manageable. Ghana Airways has a tremendous advantage because it is virtually the only Airline which flies direct to West Africa. KLM and British Airways fly to Ghana everyday. This means there is more than enough traffic to sustain Ghana Airways. It does not need any intensive advertising. Ghana Airways piloting is excellent. Passengers feel safe flying the Airline. Ghanaian citizens going back to Ghana do not have to obtain transit visas.

As a public corporation, the Government has to take Ghana Airways seriously. It can eventually make a lot of money for the country if managed properly. It is not a lost cause. The Rawling?s Government at some point used Ghana Airways revenue to guarantee some loans that financially strapped the Airline. The Airlines need an infusion of some decent capital. I am aware that the Government has limited capital but it cannot be shortsighted and let it swim or sink. The Government, as the sole shareholder, has to bite the bullet and invest in a fuel efficient aircraft. Fuel cost is a big fiscal drain. Alternatively, it can enter into a partnership agreement with for example KLM or British Airways. The present management has reduced payroll to only 5% of operating cost. Another good news is that the Government in the 2004 budget summary promised to do all it can to improve Ghana Airways? performance.

Mr. Owusu said he would not have taken the Chief Executive job if he was not capable of fixing Ghana Airways. We have to appreciate Ghana Airways as our own. We have to give it our moral and fiscal (our patronage) support and save it from ultimate collapse. It should be our national pride. In time Ghana Airways will make money that will help our national economic development. We cannot be a beggar nation forever. Let us not behave like the ostrich, burying our head in the sand anytime the going gets tough. If as Ghanaians, we sell or abandon Ghana Airways today, we shall pay dearly tomorrow.

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Columnist: Panford, Kwamina Mbra